White House hints it might cancel Obama meeting with Afghan president next month

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The White House offered fresh signals of its displeasure with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, hinting that it might cancel his Washington meeting with President Obama next month.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said a planned meeting between Obama and Karzai on May 12 is "still on the schedule."

But later, in a reference to a series of anti-Western comments made recently by the Afghan leader, Gibbs said that "we certainly would evaluate . . . continued or further remarks" by Karzai before deciding whether it's "constructive to have such a meeting."

Gibbs also pointedly declined to call Karzai a U.S. ally.

The administration has typically referred to him as a "partner" in its efforts to fight terrorism.

The Obama administration has been irritated by comments in which Karzai has denounced Western interference in his country, accused foreigners of perpetrating a "vast fraud" in Afghanistan's presidential election last year, and even suggested that his frustrations might lead him to join the Taliban.

The outbursts, which continued even after a conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have prompted critics of Karzai to question his leadership.

In an interview Tuesday morning on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown," a former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Peter W. Galbraith, described Karzai as "off balance."

"He's prone to tirades. He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan's most profitable exports," said Galbraith, apparently referring to opium.

Galbraith is among the Western leaders Karzai has publicly scorned.

The broader question about the stability of the government remains at the heart of the American mission in Afghanistan.

The months-long debate last year among Obama's senior advisers about whether to increase U.S. troop levels there centered on whether the gains by the U.S. forces would be sustained in the long run by the Afghan government.

"We want to see President Karzai fulfill the commitments that he enunciated both at his inaugural address and at a donors conference in London," Gibbs said. "Those commitments he made not just to his people but to the international community that has invested in ensuring the security of his country."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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